Author: Annerb PM
Finding Atlantis at all had been a miracle, but they’ve answered one mystery only to find a dozen more. Drama, mystery, horror, future. Gen.Rated: Fiction T - English - Mystery/Horror - Words: 7,694 - Reviews: 9 - Favs: 2 - Published: 01-11-09 - Status: Complete - id: 4786482
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Summary: Finding Atlantis at all had been a miracle, but they've answered one mystery only to find a dozen more.
Categorization: Drama, mystery, horror, apocafic, future.
Disclaimer: Not mine, just playing for fun!
Author's Notes: For the 'We'll Always Have Pegasus' ficathon on lostcityfound. I claimed the prompt: "life, after all, isn't a fairytale" and then this happened. It's the weirdest thing I have ever written, and probably reinforces why I should never be allowed to really write for these shows. Lol. Special thanks to holdouttrout for the handholding.
Sunlight streams across her face, the colors bent towards amber by the tinted, steepled windows on her left. Atlantis shines, all polished edges and cool sweeping curves. She's captivating--Atlantis, in the sunlight. She'd had almost forgotten.
They've been apart so long.
Above the gentle hum of Atlantis, the voices in the next room reach a heightened pitch, one voice loud over the others. "I don't trust her."
She doesn't need to look to know the blunt voice belongs to Ronon, characteristically heavy with suspicion. He's always searching for that hidden agenda, that deadman's trigger. It's probably why he's still alive in the first place.
"We may not have a choice," Teyla's voice counters, calm and even, softening Ronon's hard edge.
A disgruntled sigh comes next, heavy with responsibility unwillingly taken up. "I really hope you're wrong, Teyla," John says, resigned.
His words quiet the others, the discussion once again soft and indistinct and no longer distinguishable from the hallway she stands in. John's word is the final call today, maybe it always has been. John and Atlantis. Atlantis and John.
The weariness in John's voice is easy to understand. She wishes this wasn't necessary either, such a drastic step, but they have no time to waste, no margin for error. The Wraith are coming. They must-
The floor trembles beneath her feet, steady Atlantis listing firmly to one side. Losing her ground.
"John!" she gasps, trying to move up the hall, towards those familiar voices, but she's sliding backwards, slipping down with Atlantis.
The city shifts, glorious sunlight fading, sucked away as if the stars themselves have all been snuffed. The temperature falls with it. Her breath comes out as a shuddering cloud as she struggles against gravity, Atlantis' slick surfaces offering no purchase.
In the cloying darkness she hears their arrival, hears them draw closer, the building crescendo, clambering towards her. Pale faces glowing through the hissing din.
It's too late. They're too late. She stumbles, connecting hard with a solid wall as she falls. The darkness creeps closer. They don't have a choice.
"John, do it now!"
Somewhere in the distance is the grinding, earsplitting sound of overstressed metal giving way, a yawning cavity opening.
Gasping, Addy heaves up into wakefulness, nearly toppling the fragile frame of her cot as she moves. She slaps her hands to her ears, but above the frantic beat of her heart, she can still hear it, the haunting scream following her into waking, leveling out into a soft moan, the walls themselves keening in the murky green light. She can't catch her breath, she can't breathe in this tomb.
With trembling hands, she reaches for her lantern, knocking a stack of books to the floor in her haste. Leaning further, she reaches again, her fingers wrapping around the reassuring bulk of the lantern. She flips the light on.
The harsh fluorescent light cuts through the stubborn murk clouding the room, reflecting off metal surfaces and revealing five other cots all tidy in their neat rows.
All is quiet.
Addy sits there another long moment, holding her breath as her ears strain to hear any sounds, to sense any movement in the darkness beyond the reach of her light. There's nothing.
She drops back onto her cot, lying with one arm across her eyes as she wills her breathing to slow, her pounding heart to slide back down out of her throat. Just a dream, she tells herself. Just a dream.
"There's no such things as ghosts," she reminds herself in a whisper, but she's still shivering, her voice wavering through chattering teeth. Maybe coming to this city had been a bad idea, as much as she's loath to admit it.
Sitting up again, Addy's registers that all the other cots are empty of inhabitants. "Dammit," she says, shoving her blankets aside and pushing to her feet. She's overslept yet again. She glances at her watch. 8:30. Marshall is going to have a field day.
Reaching for her clothes, she changes quickly, pausing only long enough to twist her hair up into a ponytail, shove a meal bar in her pocket, and grab her pack. Picking up her lantern, she steps out into the hall. It's even darker out here. There are no windows in the corridor to let in even the feeblest light that made it down this far through the seawater.
She breaks into a slow jog, telling herself she's just trying not to be any later than she already is, rather than admit that she still feels like she's being watched, like the shadows here might be something more than simply an absence of light.
Addy lets out a breath of relief when she rounds the next corner to see a pool of light pouring out of the main conference room. The twenty other members of the expedition are already seated inside, listening to the morning updates. She steps into the back of the room, heading for the rear row of seats.
"Finally!" Carrie whispers as Addy slides into the open seat next to her.
"Why didn't you wake me up?" she asks, reaching for Carrie's cup of coffee.
Carrie gives her a look of disbelief, pulling her cup away to safety. "Wake you up? Are you kidding me? A marching band could have danced across your pillow, you were so far gone. I'd swear your brain was in another galaxy."
Addy winces. She's not usually such a sound sleeper. Of course, she's not usually scared of her own shadow either. "Sorry," she murmurs, stifling a yawn as she tries to tune in on what Mark from linguistics is saying. The poor language guys have had nothing to do but these briefing since they first arrived. There's not much of a need for translators when there's simply no words to begin with. A failing of Addy's own unit, this inability to glean any sort of data from the hulking structure.
So far, Atlantis has been very good at keeping her secrets.
"Are you sure you're all right?" Carrie asks, giving her a critical once over. "You look rather…peaked."
If she looks anything like she feels, 'peaked' is probably far too polite of a term. A low, throbbing pain has begun to creep into the base of her skull. Just another fun side effect of the damn dreams. With her luck today, she probably left her painkillers back in the dormitory, too. "It's nothing," she says. "Just weird dreams."
Carrie's getting that gleam in her eye again, like she might reach for her tablet and ask Addy to lie down on a sofa at any moment. "About what?"
"What do you think?" Addy snaps.
"The Five?" Carrie asks, her voice taking on a hushed quality as if speaking of them out loud here is sacrilege. Or might summon ghosts. Addy doesn't find that notion quite as laughable as she once might have.
Carrie's still regarding her, waiting for an answer and Addy just nods. Of course her dreams had been about The Five. They're the reason they're all here in the first place, right? Scientists and researchers and film crew, all here to solve the greatest mystery of the Modern Age. "I don't need a psychologist to tell me I've got a lot on my mind, Carrie."
"Hmph," Carrie says, probably deciding it isn't worth the energy to push the point. "Personally, I'm surprised more people aren't having nightmares. This place is creepy." Her eyes drift toward the hallway, pulling her sweater tighter across her chest as if fighting off a chill. "It's not natural."
Addy lets out a soft huff of amusement. "Is that the clinical term for it these days?"
In front of them, Tom turns in his seat, glaring back at them like they are naughty school children, and they fall silent, Carrie mouthing a silent apology. Addy just rolls her eyes. Physicists. They're so damn touchy.
Pulling out her breakfast bar, Addy nibbles on it, her attention quickly wandering from the briefing to the large multicolored window off to one side. It's a lot like the one in her dream. Only, unlike those brilliant sheets of glass, this window offers no light, only a view of impenetrable, brackish seawater that seems to sap warmth rather than radiate it. The briefing room has been set up with large shop lights in each corner, inundating the room with steady white light, but the insidious murk still seems to push back against the artificial flood, waiting just around the next corner.
God, when exactly did she become this fanciful? Maybe Carrie's right. Clearly she's letting this place get to her.
Besides the slightly greenish cast of whatever sunlight manages to reach them this far underwater, Atlantis herself sits on a slightly uneven oceanic plate. The entire city rests at a slight angle. It's only a few fractions of a degree off level, not enough to seriously impact their work, but just enough to make everything feel a bit off-kilter, like you keep taking a wrong step. Enough to make your pencils slip off horizontal surfaces when you're not paying attention.
Atlantis is just…unsettled. And unsettling.
Staring out into the seawater and remembering that awful scream, Addy can't help but think that something terrible must have happened here.
"Good morning, Doctor. Nice of you to join us."
Addy jumps, her attention snapping back to the meeting. The seats around her are empty now, most people milling around, the briefing apparently having adjourned while she was woolgathering. Dane Marshall, producer and leader of the expedition, is standing above her, his arms crossed over his chest.
Marshall's never particularly liked her. Probably because she isn't here by his choice, but rather by demand of his benefactor. He's not the kind of guy to appreciate being dictated to, not even by the guy who pays the bills. On top of that, she has the gall to be damn good at her job. Not that she's been able to prove it on this ill-fated trip. She's an electrical engineer without electricity. She'd be happy to explain why that is such a problem again if he really needs to hear it.
"How is the survey of the Northwest pier going?" he asks.
"Pretty good," Addy says, keeping her tone even and friendly. "Shouldn't take much longer."
He smiles his charming 'This is how I get my way whenever I want it', handsome guy smile. "Well, we're getting really behind. Would you mind terribly if I moved your team over to the next section?"
Addy's a bit surprised. She had thought he wanted to leave no stone unturned. Shrugging, she says, "Sure, if you think that's best, though there are half a dozen rooms down there we haven't surveyed yet."
"Right," Marshall says, drawing the word out as if pondering the situation. "Is there any way you could finish those up on your own today? I'd really appreciate it."
Ah, and there it is, the patented jellyfish move. Convince people your plan is their own idea, and then back them into a corner so they can't say no. And don't forget to smile while you do it, and look handsome, if at all possible. Well done, Marshall.
Next to her, Carrie's mouth has popped open in protest, but she holds her tongue when Addy not so gently stomps on her foot. She doesn't need anyone else getting on Marshall's bad side for her sake. She suspects he can make them all more miserable than imaginable, if they make this disaster of an expedition any worse than it already is.
"Of course I can," Addy agrees with a wide smile of her own.
Marshall squeezes her shoulder, hyena smile firmly in place. "Thanks for being such a team player, Doctor."
She knows that's supposed to make her feel good and valued, but she just ends up feeling scammed. "You know me," she manages through clenched teeth.
Carrie sends her a disapproving look as Marshall steps away. Addy just shrugs and hooks a thumb over her shoulder. "I'd better get moving."
"Be safe," Carrie says, and the worry on her face is in no way making this situation better.
Addy rolls her eyes, desperately clinging to flippancy. The city is inert, empty. What exactly is she supposed to be safe from? Tripping over her own lantern?
"See you later," Addy says, turning her light back on and slipping out into the hall. Within minutes, she's alone again. Alone in the murk.
"Just you and me, Atlantis," she says to the darkness.
No one answers.
Addy throws her gauge to the ground, listening to the loud clatter of the instrument with petulant satisfaction, barely resisting giving it a kick for good measure. It's not like there's a store around her where she can get it replaced. She settles instead for glaring at the open hatch in front of her.
Blowing out a breath, she forces her temper to cool, sitting back against the offending console. Her complete lack of progress shouldn't be a surprise. She's had two weeks of the same damn thing, after all. Like most people on the expedition, she successfully had the ATA gene therapy over a decade ago, has used Ancient technology successfully in the past. And yet… The clear crystal controls are all in place, in flawless order. Each one is capable of carrying a charge. Each one is in perfect working order.
Only they won't work.
Addy bites back an even more colorful curse. Why won't any of Atlantis' systems work? Sure, she's been missing for thirty years, hiding on this godforsaken uninhabitable planet in the middle of nowhere, but she'd sat untouched for thousands of years before the first Stargate Expedition, only to come back to life with ease for them. Thirty years are not nearly enough to account for the complete breakdown of the technology. Hell, there's hardly even any rust on her hull, lack of shields or no. Though, if the seabed had been even a few hundred feet lower, the pressure might have enacted its own vengeance.
Finding Atlantis has been the pipedream of an entire generation of humans, something like a modern day holy grail that every Dick and Jane with funding and an interstellar ship tries to find. Such a find promised not only the legendary wealth of technology in the city, but also the priceless answer to the decades old question: What happened to Atlantis?
No one had managed to find even the smallest clue, not until this expedition. Finding Atlantis at all had been a miracle, but they'd answered one mystery only to find a dozen more.
Addy's not sure what she really expected to find that first day their submersible breached the lower moon pool. Maybe part of her had been foolish enough to hope for survivors, even after all this time. That bubble had been burst within moments of first walking into Atlantis, into her empty echoing spaces.
It's nothing like the descriptions provided by the survivors, the hundreds of people who had been evacuated from Atlantis to a safe planet before the Wraith arrived. They lived on that planet for three weeks before the Deadalus arrived. And nothing was ever heard again from Atlantis. Or the five people who disappeared with her.
The city obviously wasn't destroyed by the Wraith in the final throes of that messy war as many feared. There are no bodies waiting for them here. Absolutely no visible damage to the city. Nothing that might tell them how Atlantis ended up here or why. The city is simply empty. No logs, no memos, no scrawled final messages. Nothing. Just a Stargate wielded stubbornly shut, unworkable systems, and the quiet bulk of Atlantis lying dead and rusting on the floor of a shallow sea on a planet that can't even support life.
Why? Why is the city here? What happened to the five people that disappeared with her? Always, always why.
It's Addy's job to get technology to speak to her, her specialty, but no matter how much she tries, Atlantis isn't sharing any of her secrets. Not one bit of data. Not the tiniest spark.
The strangest part of it all, if it were possible to distinguish between levels of strange in a place such as this, is the fact that they have managed to get life support functioning. It's running at bare minimum though, just enough to keep them all alive while it bled their energy reserves at an inexplicably rapid pace. It's taking way more energy than it ever should. If Addy didn't know better, she might think someone or something were trying to get them out of here as fast as possible. Which is ridiculous on more levels than she can count.
The bottom line though, is that if one system is working, there's no logical reason for the others to be so stubbornly inactive. Other than life support, they haven't been able to repair or power up a single other system. Not communications, not lighting, not shields, not even the chair. It's almost as if Atlantis herself is working against them.
Addy bites back a laugh. Now she's giving inanimate objects motives and personalities, the ability to independently act. Maybe it's lucky for all of them that they are rapidly running out of fuel. They'll have to abandon this place again in a few days. Marshall may have a hard time finding new funding for this expedition after their complete inability to deliver. She's probably not as sorry about that as she should be.
Her work ethic should be appalled. She doesn't accept failure. But she hasn't really been herself since she first caught sight of this city emerging from the water's shadows.
Fighting another yawn, she gives herself five more minutes to rest, her head dropping back against the console. Just a few minutes, then she will pick up her abandoned tools and stick her head back into that damn open hatch with its uncooperative systems.
She feels it in the control crystals first, a gentle vibration, like a low hum building up slowly under her fingers. Her first thought is that she has actually managed to get something to work, but the controls are still dark. They haven't miraculously reincarnated themselves. They're just…moving. The shuddering motion spreads gradually to the entire room around her, the floor flushing cold under her knees.
Her lantern flickers like a wick in a breeze, and she grabs for it, pulling it tight against her chest like a life vest, willing the little diode to hold steady. It dims, but doesn't go out.
With a soft hiss, the door behind her opens.
Reaching out with her free hand, Addy grabs the first heavy tool she comes in contact with before turning slowly.
A tall form fills the open doorway, features obscured by shadows and distance.
"Hello?" Addy manages, the word little more than a croak.
It steps forward into the ring of light thrown by the struggling lantern, its face coming into high relief. Addy chokes, jerking back against the table behind her, almost dropping the tool as her elbow smacks into the edge.
God, she wants to run, to scream for help, to grab for her radio, but all she can do is stare at it, that thing in the doorway. Long, lanky hair frames a gaunt, sunken face, its skin pallid, almost blue, seeming to peel away in places, like it's in the process of decomposing.
She knows what this is; only it can't be. She's seen pictures. Hell, everyone has.
But the Wraith are extinct. Dead. Gone. All of them.
Addy shrinks back against the console behind her out of some strange impulse to make herself as small as possible. It's not real. It can't be real. The thing just keeps staring at her though, its mouth hanging open but no sound coming out.
Then it moves.
In a flash the Wraith crosses the room, almost seeming to momentarily disappear before instantly blinking back into life right in front of her. Addy's vision begins to black around the edges, fear sucking away her breath, taking with it any ability to move.
The Wraith leans in closer, its putrid breath harsh against her face, a hiss beginning to build in its throat as it lifts its hand to her chest.
"No," Addy gasps.
Around them, a high-pitched shriek fills the room, the Wraith lurching back as if in pain, releasing an agonized moan. Something's wrong with it, its face suddenly even more disfigured, thick black viscous fluid dripping down from open sores. Addy's stomach lurches as the smell envelops her--the sharp, musky scent of decay.
For a moment, it reaches a hand towards her, like it might actually be…asking her for help. Which is almost more ridiculous than seeing a Wraith in the first place.
Pulling together whatever wits she has left, Addy pushes into motion. Shoving past the creature, her hand slaps against it and it feels like icy slush, sucking at her skin. She lets out an indecipherable yell, pushing harder, and breaks into a run the moment she is free of it.
She's out the door, and down the hall and God, there are pounding footsteps behind her, she can hear it catching up to her. She's not going to get away, not in time.
Careening around the next corner, she slams hard into something, biting off a scream as her precious lantern crashes to the floor. She struggles against hands holding her, trying to pull away, and it takes a moment for the familiar words to penetrate her panic.
Looking up, she stills as she recognizes a familiar face, tries to match it with a name. "Mark," she says.
"God, Addy," he says, looking alarmed. "Are you all right? What is it?"
"Did you see it?" Addy asks, craning her neck back around towards the now empty hallway. "Tell me you saw it."
"See what?" he asks, his eyes still scanning the hallway. "I didn't see anything."
Addy takes a deep breath, straining to hear any footsteps or any last trace of that terrible sound, but all is quiet. "There was…" She breaks off, not quite able to say the word. The Wraith are extinct. They don't exist anymore. And certainly not here on Atlantis, a city they've been exploring for two long weeks without a single sighting.
She's got to be losing her mind.
"What?" Mark asks again and Addy's beginning to feel a bit foolish now as the adrenaline abandons her, as she stares at the empty hallway and knows that what she saw couldn't have happened. Looking down, she realizes she's still clinging to both of Mark's arms. She lets go of him, leaning back against the nearest wall. The metal is cold, so damn cold.
"Are you okay?" he asks.
"I'm sorry," she says, willing her voice to remain steady. "I let myself get spooked." That has to be the logical explanation, right?
"Are you sure?" Mark asks, looking a little dubious himself.
Addy forces herself to smile. "Yeah. It was just my imagination getting the better of me." The alternative doesn't even bear considering. She had to have imagined it.
Mark shakes his head, beginning to look a bit more relaxed himself. "Hey, I don't blame you. I keep expecting to find bodies every time I open a new door." He shoots her a glance then, as if realizing what he's said and to who. "Uh, are you down here all alone?"
Addy grimaces. "What can I say? I always pull the best duty shifts."
Mark's eyes narrow, and he's looking a bit too canny for his own good now. "Marshall," he guesses, his voice hardening.
Addy shrugs. She finds the best way to deal with Marshall and all his crap is to not let it look like he's getting to her. "It's no secret I'm not his favorite person," she says.
Mark slides her another look, something assessing in his gaze, and she really hopes he's not trying to gauge her sanity. "Does it bother you?" Mark asks.
Addy blinks up at him. "Excuse me?"
"That Marshall's just here for profit and glory," he elaborates.
"Ah." It's not the first time she's been asked that question, and somehow she doubts it will be the last either. "Truthfully? We both know neither the military nor the government had the resources, the money, or the drive to see this through, not anymore. So without private enterprise and corporate greed, we probably never would have found her. That's got to be something, right?"
Mark seems to consider her answer, canting his head to one side as he observes her. "You know, you talk about Atlantis like it's a person."
Addy feels goose bumps rise like a wave up her arms. "Do I?"
"Huh," Addy says, reaching down to retrieve her pack. This is really not something she wants to think about, let alone talk about. "I should probably get back to work."
Mark picks up her lantern before she can get to it. "You know, I have nothing to do for a while. Would you like some company?"
She wants to say no, wants to shake off this ridiculous feeling and finish her work alone. It's the principle of the thing really, but she can also still feel that frigid air, remembers far too clearly that tortured scream.
"I'd really appreciate that, thanks," she finds herself saying.
"No problem," Mark says, falling into step next to her. "Holding your lantern will probably be the most useful I've been this entire trip."
Addy cautiously looks around the next corner, her eyes tracking the outer edge of the lamp light as they move down the hall. "Have no fear, there's time left to discover some important graffiti or a candy wrapper left behind by the Ancients or something."
"Now you're just teasing me," he accuses, the light swinging gently back and forth as he walks. "Not a nice way to treat your lantern schlepper."
Addy lets out a quiet laugh, but the newly born levity doesn't last. She feels the Wraith room before she can see it, goose bumps rising on her arms. She pauses right outside the room and realizes that a large part of her expects it to still be in there. Mark glances at her before lifting the lantern and walking in first.
She counts to five and follows him in.
The room is silent and empty, nothing but her scattered tools, inert machines, and thick metal walls. There is nothing here.
"Can I ask you something?" Addy says, once she trusts her voice not to give too much away.
"Sure," Mark says.
She licks her lip, swallowing hard before she can force the words. "Do you believe in…ghosts?"
Mark is quiet for a moment, and she can't bring herself to look at him. "Not in the traditional sense, I guess," he eventually says. "I don't believe that dead people stay behind to shake chains and haunt the living."
"Yeah," Addy agrees quickly. Of course there's no such thing. She'd been stupid to even ask the question.
"But then again," Mark continues, stepping up next to her and leaning against the counter, "we know so little about the universe, what's out here, how things work… I suppose anything is possible."
She looks up at him then, trying to decide if he really believes that or if he's just trying to appease her. He seems sincere enough, meeting her gaze calmly, and for the tiniest moment she wants to confess all, even though he's a stranger, or maybe because he is.
But then he shifts, the light falling on him differently as his expression changes to one of barely concealed curiosity that she's seen way too many times not to know what it means.
"Do you mind me asking…," he says, stumbling over the words slightly as if nervous, and exuding a sort of charming haplessness that seems designed to make him appear harmless. Suddenly he looks like a completely different person to her. How had she missed it? "What do you think really happened here?"
Addy sits back on her heels and stretches her back. "Is this on the record or off?" she asks, testing her hunch.
She doesn't miss the beat of wry understanding on his face. "That obvious, is it?"
"Let's just say your hapless, bumbling academic act needs work," she says, turning back to her work.
Mark lets out a long sigh. "How about off the record then? I'd really like to hear your theory about this place."
Her theory? She'd go with haunted, if it weren't so illogical. Is it possible though, for an event to be so unspeakably horrible that it leaves an imprint of itself behind? Is that what is going on here? It makes her gut ache, that this place they loved so well could somehow be so corrupted.
"Addy?" Mark prompts.
She reaches into the panel again, her fingers closing around the dark, flat crystal, feeling the hum of life in them, like a whispered message. Maybe ghosts don't exist, but thinking the city is somehow speaking to her, isn't that insanity?
She's not sure she actually wants an answer to that question.
Pulling her hand back out, Addy closes the hatch and starts collecting her tools. "Sorry, Mark," she says. "I don't have a clue what's going on here any more than anyone else."
He doesn't look like he believes her.
She looks up as John enters the cell.
The Wraith are dead, agonized, terrible deaths that she can't even wish upon an enemy as insidious and bloodthirsty as them. She feels sick, light-headed, and the sensation is only growing.
The screaming hasn't stopped.
She thinks maybe it never will. Oh, God. What have they done?
John comes to stand over her where she sits with her back against the wall, feeling the wail of Atlantis against her skin. "I've sent Rodney to pull the ZPMs," he says.
"It won't work," she says, listening to the pitch and moans. Such terrible hunger, and it's only growing in intensity. "It won't ever stop."
John's expression hardens and he drops down on his heels to look her directly in the eye, one hand firm around her arm. "Did you know this would happen?"
"No," she whispers, meeting his gaze squarely. She never could have dreamed something so terrible.
She's not sure he believes her, but it doesn't matter any more how much they trust her or not, it doesn't matter that they can never accept her. All that matters is fixing this, in keeping Atlantis from ever being used in this way ever again. "You know what we have to do, John."
He stares at her a long moment, such a shifting riot of emotions on his face. The he drops her gaze. "No one can ever know," he says, and it's no surprise that he's already right there with her, his mind traveling the same impossible path.
She wants to reach out and touch his hand, to give comfort, but she knows the gesture would be unwelcome.
Above them, the lights shut off, plunging the room into darkness as the power sources are pulled. John clicks on his flashlight, and they stare at each other in the utter silence for one frozen moment. And then Atlantis shudders stubbornly back into life, a howl growing and echoing through the empty halls.
"No one can ever know," she says.
Addy is lying in her cot. The dream fades slowly, leaving her whole and still, yet shaken. There are tears drying on her cheeks, but her heartbeat is slow and steady, her breathing even. Something has woken her, something more than just the dream.
The walls are singing. Low, gentle, keening hum of metal meeting energy, of pressure meeting frame. Mind and body. She can feel it whisper across her skin like a breath.
Addy slips from her bed, soft reverberations in the metal floor under her bare feet. She picks up her lantern, but does not light it. Out in the hall, the sensations increase, pulling her out and to the right, towards the eastern piers.
She is not afraid.
She's not sure how long she walks, letting the city lead her, reaching out to feel the hum of the walls with her fingertips as she goes. Doors move as she approaches, sliding open and shut with the barest sigh of sound, like somehow they've just been waiting for her.
The soft glow of yellow light greets her at the end of the next corridor, a hum of life out of place inside the inert city.
It's a lab. A lab she's been in before. No. Not me, Addy corrects herself, knowing she's never been in this part of the city. It's that other woman she's been in the dreams, that woman has been here before. The strange double layer of experience disorients her until she's seeing it as it is and how it was, and maybe, she thinks, maybe how it will be.
This is where it happened.
And even though she shouldn't be able to, can't possibly be able to know, Addy drops to her knees next to a worktable, her hands sliding flat across the floor, searching. A seam in the floor catches the edge of her finger where a panel sits not quite flush with the others surrounding it. Digging her nails in the crevice, Addy pulls.
The thick metal plate grinds loudly, but acquiesces at her insistence, lifting to reveal a dark cavern of space in the floor. Reaching for her lantern, Addy turns it on, holding it above the hole. A single flat object, something like an old fashioned ledger, rests at the bottom under a heavy layer of dust.
Reaching for it, Addy half expects her hand to pass right through it, but then her fingers press solidly against it, sliding along the soft leather cover. It's real. Picking it up, she pushes back to her feet, laying the ledger on the worktable, pulling the cover open. Inside are creamy pages covered in feminine, but slightly hurried script.
It's a letter, delicate and handwritten and out of place in a world of technological wonders. The pages feel warm in her fingers, as if only moments have passed since it's been written, but there's dust at least a centimeter thick, testament to just how much time stretches between them.
If you are reading this, you have found Atlantis. Against all odds you have found these pages. Who you might be, I cannot even hazard a guess, but you have a decision in front of you, one we found no easier to make than you may.
There is a room in Atlantis, one never meant to be opened. Even the Lanteans, for all their failings, knew better than to risk it, knew better than to unleash such power. In our desperation, our ignorance, we did what the Lanteans would not.
The Wraith were coming to take Atlantis, and Earth too, maybe. There was nothing we could do to stop them.
So we opened the door.
The cost of this salvation? Greater than we knew, more terrible than we ever could have suspected.
I will not say why, cannot even give you how, say only that it is better that no one ever know. Then why leave this record at all, you may ask. I am not here to excuse what we did, nor to ask you to forgive me for what I will do here today. I write because I believe in the power of words, in the ability of these thin pages to tie us to this place always.
What we did, we did to save lives. And what comes after…we will do to save souls. To save hers.
They have all agreed to disappear with Atlantis, to fade into the tribes of Pegasus with our secret. Perhaps some of them could have returned to Earth. Maybe they could have lied, moved on, lived the lives they deserve. But they will not. They will not risk what might happen if this decision is left in other hands, people more familiar with power than wisdom.
And so they, like Atlantis, will be lost. But they will continue.
Teyla has husband and child and a fractured, battered people still looking to her for answers. Perhaps her cause will become theirs now.
Ronon is a man with no home but the people gathered around him. I doubt he ever allowed himself the luxury of calling Atlantis home, so assured of everything's impermanence. Where they go, he will always belong.
John, their leader, a man bound to Pegasus by loss as much as honor. I doubt he will ever quite be convinced that Elizabeth is dead and gone. Not even my own knowledge can convince him. He's tied to this galaxy through her, and Aiden, and Carson, or any other half-finished story with the slightest chance of turning out different.
Of all of us, Rodney has the most to lose. Loved ones who will have to live with never knowing, and, even more, a loss his profession, his life's work. In destroying Atlantis, we are destroying his purpose, one of the cruelest fates of all. But he will find another. He will stand by his team.
Dr. Keller, the last of them, is a stranger to me. I wish I could capture her here, do her justice, but I know her little. I don't even know why she passed up her chance to return to Earth, why she so stubbornly stood by them through the crisis. Maybe she felt she couldn't leave while any under her charge remained. I can't be sure, but it sounds like something Carson would have done.
As for me, Earth was never home to me and never will be. Besides, someone has to stay behind with Atlantis. Someone has to take her down and be her guardian, her companion. A lone sentinel. John would do it. He plans to do it, but it is not his place. I'm afraid I will take this one last thing from him as well.
I don't know who might find this. Part of me hopes that maybe it will never be found at all, that these pages might crumble into dust never to be disturbed by outside air, because I'm too scared to think what Atlantis could mean to this galaxy if she ever falls into the wrong hands, or even into good ones, because even the good ones are easily warped by indecision or fear. It is what we sacrificed everything to prevent.
But at the very least, I wish them to be remembered. I want it known as you walk the halls of Atlantis, as you try to pry out her secrets, how very much they each gave up to prevent this.
They may still be out there, somewhere, just another part of the scenery of this galaxy. You may try to find them. You may decide that they deserve meaner fates for robbing Earth of a precious resource when she needed it most, for stealing Atlantis.
That is not up to me. That is up to you. Maybe, ultimately, it is up to Atlantis herself. Will she wake for you or not?
And what will you hear if she does?
Addy flips the last piece of paper over, looking for more words, but there is nothing. No signature, no sign of who this anonymous author is or how these pages got there in the first place. The words and dreams and sounds and faces tumble together, a whirlwind in her mind.
What do you hear?
She's accomplished what she came here to do. She has her answers. She just doesn't particularly want them. Returning the pages to the folder, closing it gently shut, Addy leans low over the table, her head cradled in her shaking hands.
What do you hear?
The grinding sound of a door being forcibly opened tears through the calm, quiet hum of the room, a swath of bright artificial light cutting across the room, breaking the spell. She blinks against the shift of light and sound around her, the space inert and lifeless once again. Empty.
"There you are!"
Addy starts at the unexpected voice, turning with a jerk, knocking the fragile ledger off the edge of the table where it comes to rest in the shadows of the hollowed out floor at her feet.
Marshall and one of his assistants whose name she can't remember are standing in the open doorway. "We've been looking everywhere for you," Marshall says. "Is you radio turned off?"
"My radio?" Addy says dumbly.
Marshall crosses the room, his eyes narrowed. "What are you doing in this section?"
"I thought--," Addy says. She swallows hard, her mind still struggling to kick back into motion. "I thought there might be something down here."
Marshall looks around the room. "And?" he demands, impatience and eagerness tangled in with his drive, his ego. His edge of desperation that this city refuses to wake for him.
She knows why, now.
She was sent here for answers. Earth wants to know who to blame. But what Addy has learned instead is the taste of Lantian air, the solid feel of the city under her feet, the whispers against her skin. She can feel it now, that indescribable pull at the edge of her mind, the sensation she could never quite put her finger on: Atlantis feels a bit like coming home.
She understands at last.
"Dr. Miller?" Marshall asks. "Have you found something or not?"
"No," Addy says, sliding the grate back into place with her foot, feeling it shift down with a soft hush of air, the city whispering. "There's nothing here."
"It's ready," Rodney says, stepping back from the controls, his face pale and drawn. They've all seen far too much today. "We just have to decide who is going to…," he trails off, gesturing at the interface in front of him.
One of them has to stay. One of them has to make sure Atlantis never wakes.
"Me," John says, and the others say nothing. He has already plead his case, convinced them that it is his right, his place to do the stupidly heroic, to sacrifice. It always has been. She doesn't believe that this time.
"No," she says, stepping up next to him, doing what the others can't. "You're not."
Ronon moves first, hand shifting towards his blaster, but there's not enough time to stop her, not even for him. She lifts her hand to John's forehead and she can see that he understands. John knows he's lost the moment before she touches him.
She takes one selfish moment, a split second to brush up against his mind, leaving one last imprint, one last connection, proof of who she is. Goodbye, John. Then she lets him go, his body falling to the floor.
"I'm sorry," she says to the others, touching the interface, the city already reaching for her, absorbing her, welcoming her.
Maybe, she thinks, maybe this is why she came to be in the first place. A purpose.
She is finally free.
I am her. She is me. Her towers my arms and my feet and her synapses my blood. Her agony is so great, threatens to swallow us both, this abomination we forced her to become.
I'm sorry. So sorry.
But, there… Yes. Something else to cling to, an anchor. Something soothing to muffle the screams. We can still taste them, feel their echoes long after they leave, the warmth emanating from so many little lights, so many brief, mortal flames dependent upon our frame, then-now-again. They never leave us, once they have come. Not completely.
It is enough.
When it is time, we sink down, down, down, the water squeezing us, holding us close, protected, inert. It is she and I and us. Forgotten. Lost.
Atlantis falls quiet.